Energy experts believe that hydrogen may become an important power source in the future, most notably in the form of fuel cells. But first, researchers must develop affordable ways to produce large quantities of hydrogen -- and that means finding ways to deal with the byproducts of chemical reactions that produce the gas.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the country produced nearly 91 billion eggs in 2006. That equates to about 455,000 tons of shell per year that could potentially be used in hydrogen production.
Still, Fan said, even if all that shell were utilized, it would only provide a portion of what the United States would need to seriously pursue a hydrogen economy.
"Eggshell alone may not be adequate to produce hydrogen for the whole country, but at least we can use eggshell in a better way compared to dumping it as organic waste in landfills, where companies have to pay up to $40 dollars per ton disposal cost," he said.
Before they could grind up the egg shell, the engineers needed to remove the collagen-containing membrane that clings to the inside; they developed an organic acid that does the job. About 10 percent of the membrane consists of collagen, which sells for about $ 1000/gram. This collagen, once extracted, can be used in food or pharmaceuticals, or for medical treatments. Doctors use collagen to help burn victims regenerate skin; it's also used in cosmetic surgery.
"We like that our technology can help the egg industry to dispose of its waste, and at the same time convert the waste to a useful product," Fan said.
"And in the long term, we're demonstrating that carbon-based fuel sources, like coal or biomass, can be efficiently converted to hydrogen and liquid fuel. The goal is an energy conversion system that uses a dependable fossil energy source, but at the same time has very little environmental impact."
|Contact: L.S. Fan|
Ohio State University